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Coming attractions: 10 big movies for 2012

Jennifer Lawrence stars as Katniss Everdeen in

Jennifer Lawrence stars as Katniss Everdeen in "The Hunger Games," a futuristic thriller based on the book. Photo Credit: Lionsgate

What am I looking forward to this year? As always, it's the hidden gems, the unexpected pleasures, the odd surprises. Just one problem: I don't know what those are yet.

That leaves me looking down the list of the major releases of 2012. Perhaps unfairly, I'm dreading a few already. For starters, the Farrelly Brothers' long-gestating version of "The Three Stooges" (April 13) looks like an eye-gouging disaster. The remake of the Cold War semiclassic "Red Dawn" (Nov. 2), which reportedly replaces the Russians with North Koreans, seems even more misbegotten, thanks to recent events. And Peter Jackson's "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey" (Dec. 14) doesn't excite me -- I'm one of the few people breathing who found his "Lord of the Rings" fantasies underwhelming.

Look, I try to stay positive. On my list of honorable mentions in the could-be-good department are two intriguing entries from the brainy Steven Soderbergh: the flashy spy thriller "Haywire" (Jan. 20) and "Magic Mike" (June 29), in which former exotic dancer Channing Tatum plays one. "Django Unchained" (Dec. 25), with Jamie Foxx as a slave-turned-bounty hunter, just might see Quentin Tarantino back on his A game, if only because co-star Leonardo DiCaprio does not usually sign up for fluff. And Oliver Stone's "Savages" (Sept. 28), about amateur pot dealers facing the Mexican big boys, features an intriguingly youthful cast (Blake Lively, Taylor Kitsch and Aaron Johnson), plus a cool title.

Here are my top 10 titles of 2012 that seem worth getting excited about. Like you, I haven't seen any of them yet, so let's cross our fingers together.

JOHN CARTER (Feb. 9)

Pixar's Brad Bird tackled live action with the new "Mission: Impossible," and now it's John Lasseter's turn in this lavish fantasy epic based on the Edgar Rice Burroughs hero. Taylor Kitsch goes shirtless as Carter; Willem Dafoe, via motion-capture, is the alien Tars Tarkas.

THE HUNGER GAMES (March 23)

The popular young-adult sci-fi novel, in which teenagers are forced to compete in a deadly reality show, can be somewhat silly but also surprisingly trenchant; the long-awaited film adaptation just might be a respectably serious take. With Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson and Lenny Kravitz.

THE AVENGERS (May 4)

"Thor," "Captain America" and even the "Iron Man" franchise have essentially been marketing campaigns for Joss Whedon's superhero-supergroup flick starring Robert Downey Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner and both Chrises -- Evans and Hemsworth. This better be good.

ROCK OF AGES (June 1)

An adaptation of the winkingly funny hair-metal musical that got heads a-banging on Broadway, with a promising cast that includes Russell Brand, Paul Giamatti, Alec Baldwin and, as Arsenal vocalist Stacee Jaxx, Tom Cruise.

PROMETHEUS (June 8)

Visionary director Ridley Scott returns to sci-fi with Noomi Rapace (the original "Dragon Tattoo" girl), Charlize Theron, Guy Pearce and Michael Fassbender. The vaguely defined plot connection to "Alien" makes me skeptical, but I'll see anything by the guy who did "Blade Runner."

BRAVE (June 22)

A new direction for Pixar: A more realistic look, an atmospheric feel and a fantasy-adventure story line set in the Scottish highlands. More importantly, it features the studio's first-ever female heroine, a young archer named Merida (Kelly Macdonald, of HBO's "Boardwalk Empire").

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN (July 3)

The old franchise was barely cold, but here comes this reboot with Andrew Garfield ("The Social Network") as a potentially intense Peter Parker. Emma Stone plays Spidey's original love interest, Gwen Stacy.

THE DARK KNIGHT RISES (July 20)

Writer-director Christopher Nolan gives his popular "Batman" trilogy an ending set in a reportedly even darker, bleaker Gotham. (Is that possible?) Christian Bale is back in the lead role, with new villains played by Anne Hathaway and Tom Hardy.

ARGO (Sept. 14)

I usually can't stand to watch Ben Affleck act -- but sign me up when he's in the director's chair. For his third effort, he's tackling nothing less than the 1979 Iran hostage crisis. With Bryan Cranston, John Goodman, Kyle Chandler and, well, Ben Affleck.

THE GREAT GATSBY (Dec. 25)

Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby and Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway? That's great casting -- but the mere idea of Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan has me tearing up already. Director Baz Luhrmann still owes us an explanation for "Australia," but I'm ready and waiting to see how he'll handle F. Scott Fitzgerald's Gold Coast.

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